January 8, 2019
Lt. Governor Patrick. Dean Whitmire. Senators Nelson, West, Seliger and Birdwell, members of the escort committee, and all of my colleagues in the Texas Senate.
Thank each of you. I deeply appreciate not only the nice things the speakers have said, but also the friendships and relationships I have with so many of you.
I’m joined by my family. My wife, Liz. Our children Preston and Cooper. Our daughter-in-law Catherine. My brother Kyle is here with my sister-in-law Marianne. And, of course, there’s Effie. I’m very proud of this family and thank them so much for being here and their support of my public service.
And thank you to the people of Austin and Central Texas that have allowed me to serve in elective office for such a long time now. Liz and I ended up in Austin in 1981, thinking we’d only be here a year. This town wrapped itself around us and, well, here we are almost 40 years later. The people, the place, the passion and the prospects of Austin and Central Texas still excite me. It’s neat to be allowed to be in the middle of so much of it.
This event is especially gratifying because, when I came into the Senate, I was dead last in seniority. Dead last. I told my staff at the time that would happen.
There were 5 new senators that session. One was elected in a special election and had seniority over the other four of us. Those four met with Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw on the senate floor to draw four numbers out of a red gimme cap. She went in alphabetical order. Then-senator Glen Hegar pulled out the number 1. Senator Robert Nichols, the current President Pro Tem of our Senate, went next and pulled out number 2.
The Secretary of the Senate said, “Senator Patrick, you and Senator Watson draw at the same time.” So we both reached in and pulled out our little slips of paper. His said “3” and mine said “4’.
[Pointing to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick] Just think about it. If you hadn’t left the senate, you’d be President Pro Tem today.
More than anything, this moment in time has me thinking about what it means to serve … to be a servant … about the thing that has brought us all into this special chamber.
From a very early age, I knew I wanted to serve in some way. But it wasn’t until my freshman year at Baylor when I first really found myself thinking about and understanding purpose or why one should pursue certain paths.
It was the first time I really heard people my age talk about being “called” to do something. In fact, it was the first time I remember hearing the word “calling”, as my classmates contemplated their future.
This was new. It was, frankly, a little concerning. What was a “calling”? What was I supposed to do? Was the path I’d chosen the right path? And how would I know? The Bible tells of a burning bush that gave some clear advice. A burning bush? Our high school barely had a guidance counselor.
One night, talking to my father on the phone, I asked him about it. Daddy said, “Hang on”, and went and got his Bible. He read me Romans 12, verses 4-8.
4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Don Watson was a thinker. He was pretty devout, and he questioned, tested and analyzed his faith constantly. He read and studied and often came to very thoughtful, practical conclusions about how belief translates to action.
Daddy told me to assess my desires, my strengths, the “gifts” that Paul references, and then to do right with them — whatever they are. Your calling is in the gifts you’ve been given — God calls us to seek our purpose, to play our parts, and to trust that our gifts will be amplified when others play their parts appropriately.
Of course, it was also my father who started saying when I was in elementary school, “Son, we’ve got to figure out a way for you to make a living with that mouth. Otherwise, it’s just going to get you in trouble.”
I’ll defer to the will of the Senate as to whether it’s a “gift” or “strength” — but about the only thing close to what you might call a talent is that I could talk.
I became a lawyer. And I sought opportunities to serve in that capacity; even in the way I practiced law day to day. There were other opportunities to serve. Governor Richards appointed me to chair a state environmental agency. I was elected Austin Mayor. I ran for Texas Attorney General. I lost to a guy, what was his name? Oh, yeah, Abbott.
And then, I was elected to the Texas Senate.
… Where I was last in seniority.
I’ve tried to follow Daddy’s lesson. But simply following one’s desires or perceived gifts and strengths doesn’t make you a servant any more than words create actions.
To get things done, as we all know very well, service requires urgency.
My urgency was manifest over 25 years ago, when I was in my early 30’s— when I was told I had metastatic cancer.
I went through chemo and three surgeries, and we hoped I was okay. Then, a couple of years later, they found another tumor, and I had another major surgery.
The last treatment of any kind was back in April of 1995. I am deeply blessed — to be a survivor. Another “gift”–given out of grace.
There’s a reason it’s a cliché to say “Life is short.” I sensed it before my cancer, and it revealed itself in youthful impatience. But my journey reminds me — every day — how short it is.
There’s a gift in that as well. Among other things, it enhances empathy for those who suffer and have unfulfilled needs.
Another gift of cancer has been the freedom to take chances. The freedom to pursue things in the right way without fear of consequence. The freedom to seek compromise or practical outcomes when some people demand only one way. The freedom to throw away labels and listen to a person because, even though we think we know all they believe, that label may not be really telling us everything we can or ought to know about them.
And there’s a gift in understanding urgency.
Every minute we waste is gone.
You all know that. In one sense, we feel it every session. We’re not here just to be here; we’re here because there are things we’re compelled to accomplish, and we have very little time — 140 days — to accomplish them.
If pursuing our gifts, strengths and desires is what we’re supposed to do, then urgency is how it gets done.
But … what is it? What gets done? What do we do? Calling and urgency make us servants, but what does that look like?
Priorities give shape to our service.
My priorities, honestly, probably haven’t changed that much over the time I’ve been in the senate or even first ran for office—education, health care, equal rights, government transparency, opportunity.
You’ll hear me talk about them some more over the next 140 days. But you’ll also probably hear me talk about them a little differently.
You can call that the “Effie Effect”.
As I referenced a minute ago, since we were last together, I became a grandfather. And I’m not afraid to say that my single favorite constituent is a 13-month-old girl named Frances Ellen Watson — we call her Effie.
I love Texas. I’m so proud to be part of this state’s history, and so grateful of the role it’s played in mine. I appreciate, so much, the good, decent, hard-working people of this state. Those Texans — the ones who are here and the ones who are coming — have always shaped the priorities I’ve brought into this chamber.
But I confess that Effie highlights those priorities. She’s made them more real. More immediate. More personal. She has her whole life ahead of her, and the decisions we make over the next 140 days will shape that life.
But not just Effie, of course. Our decisions between now and May will touch 28.7 million Texans. More than 7 million of them are children — just like Effie. Their whole lives are ahead of them too.
While those children may not be one of our actual children or grandchildren, they’re all our children. Though they are many, they—we–are members of the same body. And each member belongs to all of the others. They are ours.
What will our actions mean to those dear, sweet, essential Texans?
Of course, Texas is a beautifully diverse place. So we don’t all come in here with the same set of priorities. That’s more than OK. That’s how this system is supposed to work.
But it’s reassuring to me when those differing priorities all rise from or out of our own individual, personal versions of the Effie Effect. Our priorities must be driven by their effects on all of our people, especially the people who will define our future.
It’s how good-faith principles lead good servants to the common good.
It’s how this chamber of servants from different places and different experiences truly succeeds — not in spite of our differences, but because of them.
So, I end where I started, and Don Watson’s encouragement.
We’re all servant members of one body. We rely on one another — we each belong to all the others. We’re all called, we do our best to do the right thing, and we should try not to waste time doing it.
Let that be the legacy of the 86th Texas Legislative Session. I pray it is.
Again, thanks to all of you for your service and for this honor. Thanks again to Liz and my family. And thanks to the people of Austin and Central Texas.
God Bless you and the people of Texas.